Constructing Africa’s Cities: Labour Market Effects of Infrastructure Construction

Experimental evidence suggests that urban labour markets in low-income countries are characterized by inefficiencies related to search and matching of workers, while descriptive analysis highlights higher turnover rates, steeper tenure profiles and flatter experience profiles. For example, evidence from Ethiopia shows that workers offered industrial jobs often quit after a short amount of time (Blattman and Dercon 2018). This project uses the large-scale construction of Dakar’s Bus Rapid Transit system to study the effects of formal-sector employment offers in infrastructure construction in an urban context. The project aims to answer two key research questions: First, to what extent do applicants take up these jobs, and how do applicants who accept offers compare to those who refuse offers and to those in the control group? Second, what is the effect of the job offer on earnings trajectories, health and future job prospects?

The researchers will use a randomised controlled trial to test the impact of a job offer on the welfare outcomes for workers in the construction sector in Dakar. Specifically, they will study interested applicants who signed up with local communities along the BRT corridor for a job in the construction of the BRT. The researchers will collect baseline data, 12 rounds of high frequency (monthly) phone surveys and endline data six months after, in order to measure the employment status of the respondents, job search behavior, health outcomes and their satisfaction (i.e. both for those who have been offered a job and for the control group). This will allow the researchers to track the evolution of outcomes by studying transitions into and out of the labour market, the arrival of outside offers, efficiency of search and recovering the returns to particular types of labour market experiences. The researchers will also be able to study the role of match quality on transitional dynamics, while the endline data will shed light on the impacts of the job offer over a longer time horizon.

The results of this research will have an impact across a number of government agencies, donors and private firms in Senegal. Given the boom in large infrastructure projects characteristic of cities in low-income countries, a key open question is whether the employment opportunities generated in these projects lead to better outcomes for workers. From the perspective of policy makers, these projects are seen as a way to construct necessary infrastructure as well as to generate valuable jobs. The research findings will inform policy makers about the short-and medium-term labour market impacts of the jobs offered to workers. Additionally, they will provide donor organisations such as the World Bank and IsDB with data to better understand the impact of potential investments and, if there are any negative impacts, they could lead to requesting stipulations to include higher protection measures for workers.


Martina Kirchberger

Trinity College Dublin

Carol Newman

Trinity College Dublin

Sveta Milusheva

World Bank